Have you noticed how much of the 2016 Presidential campaign is based on attempting to feed and then harness the anger of the public. The candidates of both parties seem to have an endless list of villains who are to blame for all of our troubles: banks, immigrants, men, Planned Parenthood, cops, young black men, China, ISIS, Israel, employers, unions, religious people, LGBTs. Focusing on people’s frustration and anger and creating a sense of victimhood is a very effective way to get support. It has been the calling card of dictators throughout the world for years. Coaches in sports love the anger card. Athletes are always talking about being “disrespected” and playing with “a chip on their shoulder.”
There is really no “quicker” way to move people to action then to appeal to their anger and point out someone or something that is responsible for their feelings of being victimized. Understanding, respect, and love take time to build; anger takes just a moment. You can burn down a dry forest by simply lighting a match. This is the danger of anger, once it starts to burn it goes wherever it wants and the person who lit the fire is often powerless to control it, let alone stop it. Anger when released can overthrow governments and cost us the big game (see Cincinnati Bengals v. Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Playoffs). On a smaller (but more painful level) if can cost us relationships, marriages, jobs and, even our, businesses.
Anger and victimization can be fatal to our businesses. Although things are getting better in American culture, we still love applying sports metaphors to our businesses. We want to “crush the competition” and “win” market share. Over my career, I have participated in developing a deep antipathy for competitors. I have also had plenty of opportunities to play the victim due to government regulation, currency fluctuations, lower priced off-shore suppliers, unions, compliance departments, and, of course, banks and other financing sources. They made me angry and I spread that anger. The result of this anger and victimhood was either that (a) people felt despondent and dejected with no hope of defeating the collection of evil spirits I had presented; or (b) they shared my righteous anger and indignation and stopped focusing on what needed to be done in the moment.
It does not really matter how people reacted, both results are equally distracting and damaging. Anger prevents clear thinking and victimhood causes us to deny our own responsibility for our situation and our ability to change and grow. There was nothing that I could do about the government, competitors, banks etc. The reality was that all my alleged villains were doing what they do for reasons that had nothing to do with me and the business I was involved with. As the famous basketball coach, John Wooden once said “Do not permit what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” We all have to learn this to achieve real success in business (and in life).
To stick with the sports analogies, we all have to “play our own game.” We will modify what we do over time to reflect greater knowledge and experience. These modifications, however, need to go beyond being purely reactive; they must stay true to our overarching vision and values. This requires a peaceful state of mind grounded in the present reality in order to contemplate deeply enough to see the options. Nothing is more inconsistent with this state then anger and victimhood. Playing the victim to the factors that affect our businesses deprives us of our free will to truly run our own business. We essentially become slaves to these outside forces.
I am not saying that these forces are not real and do not have actual effects. The question is who is dealing with them. Am I going to take responsibility and navigate the situation in my own way or am I going to let my anger and frustration cause me to become reactive. I have seen situations where this latter path has worked well for short periods of time, but almost inevitably the path of anger leads to some form of crash landing.
Going back to the election, do we really believe that we can reverse globalization, change the nature of China’s economy, stop immigrants from wanting to cross our borders, dismantle or completely regulate a global financial system? Individually and collectively, we are buffeted by things that are out of our control from the weather to the economy to our personal relationships to our own mortality. Anger leads us to focus on those things we cannot do anything about. From there the cycle builds as those “great solutions” proposed solve problems we do not control never materialize. The result . . . even greater anger. Those are so many things that we can do in our businesses, communities and lives in a thoughtful and reflective way that would transform the world. We have no time to be victims.